Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lost in Translation

They say there’s a 5 second rule when it comes to picking up objects you dropped on the floor. They say it’s true for a toast you dropped, buttered side down, and also for a donor’s kidney in the middle of a transplant – at least on shows like the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy”. That if you’ve done it within 5 seconds, there’s no harm.

Is there a similar rule for people you feel like reaching out to when they simply happen to be there, just standing... maybe staring aimlessly? Or people you write about when they have been in your subconscious for 5 days?

Last Sunday, I got a taste of this while standing outside Kracie’s Cosmetics at the IITF at Pragati Maidan. These were your regular beauty products in pink and red and orange and yellow. Fair women. Pitch black long tresses. And a bunch of Japanese being the product description. I looked to my right. Then to my left. And then, with a terrible premonition, straight ahead and counted… 1, 2, 3, 4…. And there it was.
“Hello ma’am!” I smiled back and nodded at them. They had some kind of uniform on. And buns. Now that, for me, somehow, is the ultimate sign of competence. It’s like declaring, “I can handle this”. Well I was glad that there was something I understood about the store. Once inside, I groped about for the product that was least likely to be there. For some reason, I could only think of anti-wrinkle cream. Don’t ask me why. There was an immediate scurry and hushed whispers.

“Wrinkle kaun sa?”
“Arre woh wala do na.. peach hai, anaar hai, dekho wahaan.. paanch ka packet.. oopar angrezi mein sticker hoga.”

The conversation promised lots of fruity smells and I found myself a nice chair to dip into.

Oh it had been ages since my last trip to the Lakme on Bangalore’s New B.E.L. Road with the voluptuous healer who insisted on aroma oils with a raspy “Madam please switch your cell phone off and try to relax”. The Lakme in Frazer Town had Wilma. Dear bespectacled professional Wilma. “Hello thank you for calling Lakme Frazer Town this is Wilma how may I help you” Wilma. Breathe, Wilma.

The Kracie girls were back in my face.
“Yeh kya hai?” I pointed at the pink mush in her hand.
“Ma’am yeh na aap chehre pe laga sakti hain aur aapka complexion.. matlab jo aapke chehre pe jo yeh kaala kaala.. nahi matlab aap to gori hi hain waise bhi.. he he he.. “

What do you do with them? Seriously. You wait for them to scratch the last, compose themselves and start over.

“Haan to ma’am yeh na main aapke haath pe lagane waali hoon.. haath dijiye.. laft hand..”
Fssk.. fssk.. fssk..
“Yeh kya sprinkle kiya?”
“Oh yeh to paani hai”
She smeared the pink lotion on my hand and then rubbed it.. and kept rubbing it.
“Ab na isko aise char ghante rub karna hai”
“Matlab char ghante lagake rakhna hai?”
“Nahi nahi char ghante rub karna hai. Fir pochh dena hai. Napkin lao.”
She rubbed it off.
“Ab.. laft hand ke bagal mein right hand ko rakhiye. Fark dikha?”
Smile. It confuses people. And then shoot a polite query.
“Aur kya kya karta hai yeh?”
“Arre ma’am yeh to sirf 595 kya hai.. paanch ka packet.. aise kaala face mask bhi aata hai. Aap kahaan rahti hain?”
“Khan Market mein koi stall hai kya aapka?”
“Nahi par khulne waala hai. Aur ma’am pehle yahaan se to shopping kar lijiye pehle… he he he.. yeh pink waala Anaar hai.”

Well yes, thank you. My hand smelled nice. I felt pampered again. Wanted to believe in the power of pink.

And then I left. With the perfect antidote to “Hello ma’am”.

“Main abhi aati hoon.”

It bothered me. I had slipped out of the situation without an explanation. And I knew they had seen through me. I reasoned, that it’s just a matter of perspective. They were in their uniforms. I was in mine. Jeans and kurta. Huddled to myself in a shawl. They were interpreters lost in translation. And I had lied outright. I borrowed a touch to travel to my past and they experimented with the future in mind. They were trying to do their job and I was just turning the pages of a storybook. I left when it got to me. I didn’t want to hurt them. I didn’t want to remind them that it’s just a story which they haven’t written, nor directed, but must enact. It bothered me because somewhere, they had touched me with their maturity. I was in awe. This was real-time. This was 2 and 2 adding up to 4. And I couldn’t stand it.

1 comment:

  1. The sales script... Do not under-estimate a sales person's intuition. They know within 5 seconds whether you will buy or not. 1,2,3,4,5. They still follow the script and do their duty. You can always rely on a saleswoman "on the job". Thank you for this tribute.